Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more."
But I was tired of studying, so I got up and answered it anyway, putting aside my Scheme textbook and dragging my weary self across the rather tiny confines of my single room and opening the door.
And there, looking entirely too chipper and cheerful for this time of night, let alone this time of the week, was Zoner. Inside, I groaned. How did he do it? Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at midnight, dead-tired at noon, getting through the days on alternate spurts of hot coffee and panic, he expected to complete college somehow? Ye gods.
"Hi," I said, and went back to the spot on my bed I'd been occupying for the last six hours. My bed was next to the room's univent, and as such was the only place in the ten-by-fifteen cinderblock room that approached being warm. I would have asked my Resident Advisor to turn up the heat a little, but he was busy getting plastered with most of my floormates. At least they were doing it
quietly this week.
"Yo," said Zoner, stepping in and closing the door. "What's up?"
"Studying," I replied, indicating the quaint and curious volume of forgotten LISP. "And more studying, and more studying."
We were coming up on the holidays and finals, but there was no need for me to point that out; at WPI, you're always coming up on finals. Bloody seven-week terms.
"What brings you out so cheerful this evening?" I went on.
"I got the plane," Zoner said with a broad grin as he sat down in my leather chair.
I looked blankly at him for a moment, not comprehending the statement. Then it dawned on me what he meant, and if my expression didn't change, at least the reason for it did.
A couple of days previous, he had mentioned that he'd put in a bid on an airplane that was up for auction. He was very excited about it, and kept mentioning how hopeful he was that he'd get it. I hadn't paid very much attention at the time; I knew he was a pilot and pretty well-off, but the details escaped me and I didn't really have the time to ask him for clarification with B-term midterms looming, as they had been, ahead of me.
"Well, that's cool. What kind is it?"
"It's an R4D-8," he beamed.
Well, that's helpful, I thought. "A what?"
"That's the Navy designation for a C-47F."
"Oh. So, a DC-3, then." I was a little surprised; I had been expecting him to be picking up a smallish civil-aviation-type airplane - a Cessna hundred-series, or perhaps a Porter.
A DC-3, on the other hand, was a significantly bigger animal. The first really practical airliner, large and long-range, if slow, it had made Douglas an aeronautical giant in the thirties and served as the backbone of the US global logistics network during the Second World War. They were so solid that they're still fairly common in service, despite the fact that they've been out of production since the end of the war.
"Actually," Zoner said, "R4D-8s were Super DC-3s."
"Yeah, well, whatever. What kind of shape is it in?" I asked, picturing a couple of hundred large wooden crates and a gutted airframe - some assembly required.
"Mint," Zoner beamed. "Fresh from a reconditioning. Only 30 hours on the engines." He rattled off the names of a bunch of things it had, most of which were acronyms that I vaguely thought had something to do with navigation and/or radio systems.
"How in the hell did you get a shot at something like that?" I asked.
"Government auction," he replied offhandedly, as if it were no big deal. "The feds seized it from a guy who was flying two tons of coke up from South America."
"A guy who had apparently just bought himself a shiny new reconditioned DC-3."
"Yep, poor bastard," said Zoner, his grin putting the lie to the sympathy in his words. "Just bought the plane, flew it to Colombia or someplace, flew it back and got nailed in Miami by the DEA."
"Dare I ask what you plan on doing with this new find of yours?"
"Whatever comes along," he said. "I figured I'd put out some feelers, take a few contract jobs - legitimate stuff, not what the last owner was doing. Running drugs is just stupid, and the only stuff that's got decent money in it, I wouldn't transport anyway. If it looks like there's enough money in legit cargo, and enough enjoyment, I might make a career out of it."
I made a picture frame with my hands. "'Have large airplane, will travel.'"
"Yeah, something like that, I guess. I've even got my first job lined up already."
I raised an eyebrow. "So soon?"
"Yeah, I was telling a net.friend of mine in England about my plans, and he hooked me up with my first client." He paused, looking less gleeful. "There's only one problem, though."
"Well, operating a DC-3 is really a job for two or three people. I won't be hauling any cargo to speak of this time, so I won't need a loadmaster, but I could still use another person to keep an eye on the gauges and stuff."
"Oh ayuh," I replied. "Stands to reason, big plane like that." I went back to re-reading the Scheme book.
There was a pause. I knew what he was getting at, of course, but I figured I'd make him work for it.
"So," he said. "You doing anything this weekend?"
I put the book down and looked at his fuzzy outline over the frames of my glasses. Then, pushing the glasses up so I could see him through the lenses, I said, "Not especially. Why?"
"Oh, 'cause, y'know, I figured maybe you might like to go to Peru on Saturday."
"Peru." I packed as much skepticism into those two syllables as I could.
"Yeah. That's where the job is - Peru and back."
"Where in Peru, exactly? I understand it's an entire country. I mean, if you said you were going to Liechtenstein, sure, no elaboration really needed there, but... " I shrugged.
Zoner didn't take the bait. He wasn't going to be drawn into a snarking match when he was trying to put a con across, so he answered the question straight:
"Not sure... our passenger said she'd specify the exact destination once we're on our way."
"And the return flight?"
"Oh, we should be back by next Wednesday."
His shift into the plural didn't go unnoticed, but I didn't comment. Zoner has a habit of planning things out in advance even if they involve people who haven't committed yet; that way he can pout at them for upsetting his careful plans if they try to back out. It's a classic passive aggression technique.
"Zoner, it's the fourteenth of November. I have to go to Washington with my father for Thanksgiving, if you've forgotten."
"That's OK, I promised my parents I'd be back in New York by then anyway."
"And I have studying to do."
"Bring your books."
I sighed, but it was an intriguing idea, really. I was getting tired of working on this arcane programming course; having blown the midterm I didn't stand a good chance of passing it anyway. My other classes, I had well in hand. I could afford to be away for a couple of days... well, I couldn't afford it, but I could get away with it, probably. Besides, it sounded like quite an adventure.
Besides, it would be a long flight... I could bring my books, as Zoner suggested, and study on the way there, and the way back, and heck, while we were waiting for our passenger to do whatever business she was doing down there, too...
Rationalize, rationalize, rationalize.
"I don't know a hell of a lot about flying a cargo plane," I told Zoner. "All my flight experience has been in light aircraft."
Very light aircraft. Like, my uncle's Aeronca Champion.
"No problem, I'll teach you what you need to know on the way there."
So much for studying on the way down. But there was still the wait and the trip back.
"Hmm... well, OK then, sounds like fun. I better do some laundry tomorrow, though. And I have to make up some reason for being gone this weekend for my parents. They'd shit if they knew I was up and flying off to Peru."
Zoner grinned. "Great! Cut your afternoon classes tomorrow and we'll go make sure the plane's ready. We have to meet our passenger at Logan, too, she's flying in from England tomorrow afternoon at six-thirty."
I sighed, closed the Scheme book for good, and stuck it under my bed along with my notebook for that class, so I'd have room to stretch out a little on the bed. "And just who is our passenger?" I asked, reaching above my head to pull one of my books out of the shelf. (And people wonder why I have them in there upside down.)
"I guess she's some kind of archeologist or some such," Zoner replied. "Name of Lara Croft." As a sort of conversational aside, he added, "She's got a really sexy voice."
I looked at the cover of the book I'd just selected.
"... Maybe I should've gotten the Books On Tape version," I replied dryly, turning the book so Zoner could see it.
ALONE IN THE HIMALAYA, said the title in large, bold, shouting capitals, and below, in smaller, chummier, more informative letters, LARA CROFT. Most of the jacket was taken up by a photo of some gigantic mountain or another.
"Oh!" said Zoner. "Is there a picture?"
"No, more's the pity," I said, flipping to the back of the dust jacket. "Just the usual about-the-author boilerplate."
"What's it say about her?"
"Well, let's see. 'Nineteen-year-old Lara Croft's career as an explorer and treasure hunter got off to a spectacular start with her six-month expedition into the heart of the Himalaya, chronicled in this, her first book. When not delving into the mysteries of ancient civilizations, Miss Croft lives in England with her two dogs, Laurel and Hardy. The subject of her next expedition is a closely guarded secret.'"
I put the book down, lay back, contemplated the ceiling and thought about it for a moment. "The book's a couple-three years old, so she'd be 21, 22 now."
"Yup." Zoner agreed with my math.
"... We're taking Lara Croft to Peru."
Zoner sucked in a shallow breath through his teeth, kind of a sigh-in-reverse: "Yeh."
"Well, that's it, then. I'm officially impressed, even though I think one or both of us must have a screw loose. You just bought the plane, and with no real preparation time to speak of, we're going to up and fly it to South America. With a sort-of-famous paying passenger, no less."
"Sink or swim," replied Zoner with a grin.
I hate it when he gets confident like this. It might mean he knows what he's doing, but more often than not, it just means he's about to get himself, and me, and anybody else who might be standing too close, in trouble.